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The Democratic Republic of Congo is more than what you see in the media: A Look at Congolese Fashion Brands

Jul 01, 2022 02:00PM ● By Candice Stewart
Democratic Republic of Congo flag

The central African nation, The Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R. Congo), formerly known as the Republic of Zaire, is more than its relationship with Belgium, Patrice Lumumba and the gold tooth that outlived him. The D.R. Congo is more than armed conflict and more than the work to conserve and protect the lives of gorillas in the country. Yes, the D.R. Congo has been shaped by situations to have come from those matters but there is much more to the Congolese that includes the arts in its various forms.

With the celebration of Congo’s 62nd year of independence, let us seek to highlight a more positive view of the central African nation by way of art through fashion.


Haitian-Italian fashion designer, Stella Jean is quoted as saying, "fashion can be used as a cultural translator and a tool against colonisation; it re-establishes the balance between symbols, stories and different worlds through style.” A truer statement has never been said. Fashion is more than garment and it is more than the simplistic meaning that many ascribe to it.

The Congolese people and brands highlighted in this article represent the very essence of what Stella Jean describes fashion to be. This list you are about to see is not exhaustive and barely scratches the surface. That goes to show that Congolese people and their fashion brands are beyond amazing and are deserving of celebration

Read about the Democratic Republic of Congo's music:

Image by Paul Kagame via Flickr httpswwwflickrcomphotospaulkagame6138659028

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Stella Safari, Founder of Zapenda | Photograph by Nelson Nyamugasha | Source: Hour Detroit

Created by Stella Safari, Zapenda is a brand which bridges African and American fashion. It is a reflection of Stella Safari’s experiences growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo and also in the U.S.

At eight years of age, Safari fled the Congo and traveled to the U.S. with her older sisters amid an ongoing war. She later moved to Silver Spring in Maryland, where she grew up. In 2013, she left for Detroit as a fellow for the nonprofit, Venture for America (VFA), shortly after graduating from Dartmouth College.

The brand, which was officially launched in 2019, offers custom-made Congolese clothing that is shipped to customers worldwide. Safari launched her brand with colleague Dextina Booker, the creative director for Zapenda. Importantly, Zapenda employs tailors in Safari’s hometown of Bukavu in eastern Congo to create the products.

Stella Safari |  Source: zapendashop on Instagram

The brand’s name plays on the Swahili word, ‘mapendo’ which means ‘love’.

Safari is quoted telling Hour Detroit that she sees herself as an ambassador. “I see myself as an ambassador for Congo when I’m [in the U.S.] and an ambassador for [the U.S.] when I’m there. I think that I exist between these two worlds. My desire is to keep building that bridge for more and more people to have this cross-cultural exchange. As a Congolese person, I feel really strongly about stepping into that light of portraying my country, how I interact with it, and how I experience it. Zapenda is definitely a part of that,” she said.



Anifa Mvuemba, Founder and Designer of Hanifa | Source: Authority Magazine

Anifa Mvuemba is the founder and designer of ready-to-wear contemporary brand, Hanifa. Her family fled to the U.S. when she was three years of age to escape war in D.R. Congo and start a new life. Since then, she has found a way to embrace her Congolese heritage. This she does through African-influenced color palettes and silhouettes that pay tribute to Congolese women and women across the African continent.

She says her passion for fashion expression started at a young age. She watched her mother get dressed for work in the mornings and later raided her closet. Mvuemba says her mother was her introduction to fashion, and she took inspiration from her well-tailored suits that later became the signature look for Anifa.

Based in DC, Hanifa makes edgy, feminine, size inclusive clothing that compliment the natural curves of a woman’s body.

The brand was the first to livestream a virtual runway show on Instagram via Pink Label Congo of May 2020 and has been credited by top fashion publications such as Vogue, Essence, Forbes, Elle, and Teen Vogue.

Read '5 Best African Fashion Designers':

5 Best African Fashion Designers

5 Best African Fashion Designers.

African designers have long been cast in the shadow of their more visible European colleagues, often victims of cultural appropriation, Western exploitation, and outright design theft. Read More » 


Okito Brand

The design development process by Gabriel 'Pirlo' Okito | Source: okitobrand on Instagram

Named after its founder, Gabriel ‘Pirlo’ Okito, Okitobrand was founded in 2014. The brand’s logo, the okapi, is a rare species found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The okapi as the logo seeks to embody the brand’s Congolese roots and defines the rarity of the brand’s products. 

Generally, inspiration used to create pieces come from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In an Instagram post in April 2021, a step by step process was curated to highlight how a particular piece was inspired by the documentary, ‘Virunga’ which refers to the Virunga National Park in the D.R. Congo.

Public figures such as Distel Zola (soccer player), James Harden (NBA player), and Phanuel Kavita (soccer player) have been seen sporting the Okito Brand.


Read '5 African Fashion Trends To Try This Summer':

5 African Fashion Trends To Try This Summer

5 African Fashion Trends To Try This Summer

African fashion, like all fashion, changes year after year and season after season while staying faithful to its roots. Read More » 


Honorable mentions of other Congolese brands include: Madam S, Misamu Couture and Uchawi World

Though there are a number of reasons to feed on the sad, concerning and negative imagery of the Democratic Republic of Congo, be reminded that the fabric of this central African nation goes deeper. Fashion is among the many positives and culturally important aspects for the Congolese people.

Happy Independence to the D.R. Congo.





Stella Jean Calls For A Fashion Revolution – Vogue UK

Apparel Brand Zapenda Brings Congolese Artisanship and Tradition to Detroit – Hour Detroit

Modern Fashion: Anifa Mvuemba of Hanifa On The 5 Things You Need To Lead a Successful Fashion Brand Today – Authority Magazine

15 Congolese-Owned Designer Brands To Shop Now – LeCongoLais Magazine


 Candice Stewart is a Jamaican content writer specializing in human interest feature stories. She is a web content writer, blogger, and budding podcaster. 
She holds an MA in Communication for Social and Behaviour Change and a BSc. in Psychology from the University of the West Indies (UWI, Mona).

Follow her blog at, where she shares stories and life lessons through real-life experiences.

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